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Monday, December 9, 2013

From Patagonia on Black Friday

I meant to post this right away, I think this is an interesting thing for Patagonia to do on the most commercial of commercial days.




Black Friday - which is called that because historically it is the day that retailers go into the black for the first time of the year - is considered by most to be the most important shopping day of the year. The holiday sales forecast is based on the numbers from that one day. It can make or break a company. And it is a completely contrived event, to make people shop.

The American economy is based on growth, if sales are flat to the previous year they are considered a failure. Every year retailers work hard to get more and more out of the American consumer, and they do it by extending Black Friday. Stores will continue to open earlier and earlier offering better and better deals. Which is how we end up with places like Walmart open on Thanksgiving. It is all a plan to extend the shopping season.

How important is shopping to the American economy? I happened to live in lower Manhattan on 9/11. Do you remember the instructions that the President of the United States gave to the American people? The instructions to show our resolve to 'the evil-doers'? I remember vividly, because I couldn't believe what I was hearing. It wasn't to mourn the dead, or get a steely reserve for the coming fight. On December 7th after the attack on Pearl Harbor FDR called it 'A day that will live in infamy'. President Bush told us to go shopping. And why wouldn't he? He knew that what makes America strong, in large part is the power of its economy. He knew that people shopping would stoke the economy, he just wasn't very subtle about it.

Now, this strikes me for a couple of reasons. It may just be the media - or lack thereof - that I watch, but I see changes in part of the psyche of the American population. At least a small part of it. I see things like the Tiny house movement, (24,000 subscribers on reddit) where people are realizing they don't want to be a slave to their mortgage. They don't want to pay a fortune to furnish, heat, cool, and maintain a house, thousands of feet larger than they need. How many McMansions are empty awaiting foreclosure? People are finding work arounds to build houses that most building codes would deem illegal. Some - though not most - measuring under 100 square feet, and no, I didn't drop a zero. One Hundred. Some other subreddits of note, r/simpleliving has 33,000 subscribers, and one of my favorites, r/minimalism has near 80,000 subscribers. So while these numbers are comparatively small (r/Gameofthrones has 275,000 subscribers) there is a growing section of the population that is tired of their emergency instructions being to go shopping.

So it is fascinating that a company like Patagonia, on the busiest shopping day of the year chose not to offer a compelling special deal, other than buy something from us and it will last you a really long time. Now, you could argue that Patagonia is making a lot of money anyway, and they are choosing to make a point on black Friday, and you would be right. Patagonia isn't having any difficulty in the sales department. If you need proof try and find a re-tool snap t. But they are making a conscious decision not to go after low hanging, Black Friday fruit. Of course as I check my inbox, I have plenty of emails from Patagonia. Just about one a day, and the most recent is offering a 50% off web special. Maybe they just chose that day to send a message.

Interestingly, some Apple stores are open on Thanksgiving. Waikiki beach, Las Vegas, and the 24/7 store in New York (On fifth avenue). Apple was going to open a handful of other stores on Thanksgiving, which was vetoed by Apple CEO Tim Cook, siting the importance of Apple employees spending time with family.

My question is how long, and how far can we go on Black Friday? Are we going to see Black Friday specials on Wednesday next year? At some point is the holiday shopping season going to start just after Halloween? I applaud the stores that chose not to open on Thanksgiving. I think it is important that at some point we draw the line, and say that our problems aren't solved with shopping. Yeah, I like a new piece of gear as much as the next person, but I try to not let it define me. And I love that looking at the gear that I regularly use, some of it is old enough to have been featured in the Worn Wear film. I may not have walked 11,000 miles of trail wearing the same hat, but I have had the same fleece for nearly 25 years, and it is a story I wear. Thanks Patagonia.

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